Amazing how quickly a
season can turn upside down, isnít it?
It must be the October
blues. Days shorten and, in recent years, so do Dolphin seasons.
Or, this time, it could be
something more systemic.
Rewind to one month ago. That
Monday night game at New Orleans is when this party began to lose the fun.
Many, far too many, waived off that loss as just a tough assignment against a
very good team playing at home. And that excuse probably would have held water
had the Dolphins not followed it up with back-to-back disappointing losses at
home to the Ravens and Bills, and a terrible second half collapse at New
England in blowing a 17-3 halftime lead.
Against the Saints, the Dolphins
laid an egg in a game where an up-and-coming team competes hard at the minimum.
That subpar performance carried forward, uncorrected, through the next three
games and into the Bengals tilt.
Good teams win 3 of those
5 games. The Dolphins won one, barely. And so gone is any credibility they had
built up from their fast 3-0 start. Head coach Joe Philbinís honeymoon is
effectively over, even with the gritty win over the Bengals.
Thank God for Cam Wake,
but donít be fooled; the Dolphins havenít stemmed the bleeding yet. And now we
have off-the-field distractions as well.
C Mike Pouncey was
confronted on his way to the team bus in Foxborough by Massachusetts law
enforcement personnel and served with a subpoena tied to the Aaron Hernandez situation,
which has now been expanded to include illegal gun sales. This is a very
serious matter which could result in charges. It will also be a distraction for
the rest of the season.
Then, on Monday, OT
Jonathan Martin reportedly had an emotional meltdown in the team dining room
after some members of the offensive line played a joke on him. Martin stomped
off and hasnít been seen since. He is listed as doubtful versus the Bengals
with an undisclosed illness. The timing of his return is unknown. It may be
[Editor's Note: Martin reportedly went directly to the hospital on Monday following his meltdown and is now at home with his family. He was not at the stadium for last night's game, but current reports say he does plan to return to the team.]
On Wednesday, the Miami
Herald reported a rift in the Dolphins front office between Philbin and GM Jeff
Ireland, with VP Dawn Aponte taking Philbinís side versus IrelandÖthe very man
owner Stephen Ross just extended for another year.
And this is just the off
the field nonsense.
In matters of
footballÖthe actual business of playing and, you know, winningÖthe list of
issues seems to grow by the day. The offensive line still canít protect the
quarterback after three months of practicing, the quarterback still canít
protect the football after 7 games of action, and the defense is struggling to
keep that aforementioned football out of the endzone. The offensive coordinator
is under siege for allegedly shoddy playcalling, and players are privately
seething over perceived and real slights.
Does this sound like a cohesive,
winning team to you?
Didnít think so.
Yet the season can still
be saved, a happy ending realized. For this to happen, one man needs to step
forward and re-gain control of this ship: Joe Philbin. Itís up to him and his
staff to quickly solve the issues dragging down the teamís playoff hopes.
This is a man who has
been compared to Don Shula in many ways by well-respected team watchers. If
that comparison is truly valid, here are a few suggestions.
First, understand that
there is no cavalry coming over the mountain. The trade deadline has passed,
and the street free agents out there are not difference makers. This means Philbin
and his staff must come to understand and ACCEPT what his players do well Ė and
what they donít do well Ė and that more practicing wonít make them better at
these things. Shula excelled at adjustments in his philosophy to suit his
Asking RT Tyson Clabo to
single block elite pass rushers like Bills DE Mario Williams 40 times a game is
an example of what I mean. Asking DB Nolan Carroll to cover elite WRs
one-on-one is another.
Second, Philbin needs to recognize
that the coaches arenít getting what they should out of the talent they have. He
needs to understand why that is and fix it, quickly. Shula would adjust game plans
so his playmakers, his best players, could make a positive impact on games. Philbin
and his staff havenít done that.
The Dolphins paid $60
million to WR Mike Wallace to knock the top off of defenses. They invested
heavily to draft DE Dion Jordan, a Demarcus Ware clone. Philbin and his staff
would do well to start maximizing the return on these investments with better
game planning and schemes. In other words, put their best players in a position
to be successful. Having Jordan in on just 25% of the snaps is not winning
Third, Philbin and his
staff need to get the persistent mistakes corrected. Shula was relentless about
not allowing mental and physical errors to go uncorrected. Philbin needs to be
just as demanding, on the practice field and in the meeting rooms. Does the
quick pace of practice allow time for proper corrections to be made?
QB Ryan Tannehill has a
persistent fumbling issue. It doesnít matter why it happens; the bottom line is
that the QB has to protect the football. Tannehill hasnít been properly coached,
which is why the problem persists. Philbin should make
him carry a ball around under his arm all day long if thatís what it takes.
Confront the issue and solve it!
Fourth, Philbin needs to
demand more from his coaches, especially at halftime where corrections need to
be made. The Dolphins were badly outcoached in October, the most glaring †examples being Buffalo and New England. In
both cases, one could argue that Philbin had a better roster to work with. In
the case of the Buffalo game, he and his staff even had an extra week to
prepare. In the case of the New England game, Belichick and his staff simply out
thought and out coached Philbin and his guys. That is inexcusable.
If Philbin will just see
to it that these four things are addressed, the Dolphinsí ship can still be righted.
The Bengals win was nice, and fortunate. But donít be fooled; †these Dolphins are far from being out of the
woods. 13 offensive points versus the Bengals confirms that. Philbin needs to act now or this season will soon be lost.